People often ask me how come I’m always so happy. Now, nobody’s always happy and I wouldn’t even dream of saying that I’m always happy, but it is true that I often seem to be smiling, even when I’m not. I can say, though, that there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been smiling going to work, and then I just keep smiling all day long.
I think that helps. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re smiling.
And it’s hard not to smile when you’re riding a rollercoaster all day long. Literally.
There are only nine rollercoasters like ours in the world, these side friction roller coasters that need brakemen like me, most of them are in Europe. Our theme park has eighteen brakemen, so I guess there are less than a hundred brakemen in the world. That’s kind of special. Basically, my job is to adjust the speed to make sure the cars don’t go airborne. You may think it’s fun sitting there if it does, but when the cars are going sixty clicks an hour, it’s rough riding and nobody’s laughing anymore.
So, I’m there to make sure people are laughing.
Not that people pay much attention to me, or any of us. We stand in the back and most people are just trying to get into the cars as quickly a possible, rushing to get that first car, so many of them don’t even notice that there’s a man standing in the back. And yeah, we’re all dudes, don’t know why.
People only notice us when something unexpected happens. I often drive a little faster towards the end of the day because I know there aren’t any kids on the rollercoaster anymore so the ride can be a little bumpier than usual, and that’s when people come talk to me afterwards. Mostly to thank me, believe it or not, but of course there are those who get a little scared and think I’m an evil man.
And then of course there are the times when I catch stuff that people lose during the ride. You won’t believe the things I’ve caught in my 26 years as a brakeman. Hats every day, of course. We have a sign that tells people to take off hats, but they forget, or they think that their hat won’t fly away, or that they’ll be quick enough to catch it. Well, fortunately for them, I’m standing in the back, and I catch everything. Everything. I’ve caught hats, scarves, money, stuffed animals, dentures, you name it and I’ve caught it.
That’s when people notice me, and they’re so happy when they get their favorite hat or teeth back.
Here’s a little inside tip to you. Every day, I come up with a secret code that will help people cut to the front of the line, only they have to figure it out. I just pick something. I see a guy brush his hair back and decide that that’s the code and so if he comes back and does it again, I meet him at the gate and show him to the first car. That’s where most people want to ride if they get the choice. Not many people get the code thing, but it keeps my days exciting.
One person who did get it, or says she got it, is my wife which I find interesting because it was the first time I ever did that.
Anyway, it was just my second year at the park so I was pretty confident, a cocky kid, frankly, and I noticed her standing in the line at around the four-ride mark. We had three sets of cars so you could always have a glance at your next guests while waiting for the car to fill. There she was, a petit blonde if I ever saw one, standing there with a friend, talking. Then she looked at the line, and then at me, and she touched her nose, like Paul Newman’s character in “Sting”.
I touched mine, and she smiled at me. When I came back from my ride, it was her turn and she ended up sitting somewhere in the middle, about five rows from me, but just as she got on, I did the nose code, and she returned it.
I was so happy I don’t think I hit the brakes once during that ride. She laughed through the first climb and barely had time to admire the view over the city at the first turn before she started screaming through the first drop. It was the happiest scream I’d ever heard. When I stepped on the brakes for the last time, bringing the cars to a stop to where we had started, she got up and gave me the nose signal again.
I jumped out of the car to talk to her before she had time to head for the exit.
“Um, miss,” I said, “I noticed you gave me the secret code, and I assume you’d like to give our rollercoaster another go?”
She looked at me, then at her friend, then me again, then back at her friend who gave her a slight nod. She got in the car, and her friend walked to the exit.
I escorted her to the last car, the one right in front of me, and it was as if we were the only ones on that ride. I took it up as fast as I could but stayed at the top a little longer than usual, to show her my city.
I loved that view myself, because it made me feel like the king of everything. Up there, on top of the rollercoaster, a wooden classic that was there when my grandparents had been dating, I was in charge, and I had the city down below me, with all its stories, all my stories, and up there, I felt connected to every single person in the city.
I pointed out all the important sights to her, the three churches, the stadium, the hospital where I was born, the train station, the concert hall, and way, way out so that you didn’t really see it if you didn’t know exactly where to look, a pond, and next to it, a big rock. My favorite place in the city. On my off days, I used to ride my bike to the rock and watch the rollercoaster go ‘round and ‘round.
Then, I took my foot off the brakes and yelled, “here we go!” and down we went. One hop, everybody leaving their seats, then landing again, second jump, and a left turn, a new climb, and down again, and a jump, and on and on, until we hit the complete darkness of the tunnel right at the end of the ride. I put my hand on her shoulder, and she put her hand on mine, but by the time we got out of the tunnel, it was gone again.
She thanked me, and she did the nose code thing, and I did it, too. I knew I had to keep doing the code thing so that she wouldn’t think it was just thing I did to impress her. Then it became my thing. And a fun one.
Well, as my first boss always told us, “All you need is one good brake, man.”
That was my biggest one.
Oh, I told you she was my wife, so I guess I ruined the surprise ending here. Every year, I take her on a private ride and I stop the car right at the top, and we admire the view.
But even when I’m there on my own, or, you know, with guests, I look at the city at the first turn and I think about her and our first ride, and I wave towards our house way out in the suburbs, to her. And then I take the cars down, about 60 clicks an hour, ready to brake after the first jump.
Ready to catch anything.
Who’s gonna hold you down
when you shake
Who’s gonna come around
when you break
The Cars – Drive (1984)
This is a part of an ongoing series of stories, mostly flash fiction, inspired by 80s pop songs. You can find them all here.